After a decade of operating in the city, the Airdrie Aces Athletics Club has dissolved.
Jodie Matsuba-Szucs, the track and field club’s president and founder, said financial difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic led to the shuttering.
“It’s been tough to come to this decision, but we really had no choice,” she said. “Everyone’s focus has changed and everyone is just trying to survive right now.”
According to Matsuba-Szucs, the first major blow to the Aces' finances came when the club was forced to cancel a casino fundraiser in the spring. She said a casino fundraiser would typically raise more than $50,000, which would help pay for club-related expenses for up to three years.
On top of that, Matsuba-Szucs said the club’s annual Airdrie Mayor’s Run – another fundraiser – was also cancelled due to the pandemic.
“It’s tough," she said. "Without casinos, bingos and fundraising, it’s impossible [to run it] if you don’t have the membership,” she said.
The final nail in the coffin was a forecasted drop in member registration this fall, she said. According to Matsuba-Szucs, some families decided not to enrol their children this year, whether due to fears surrounding the virus, the uncertainty of what the upcoming indoor track season would look like or financial pressures.
“Right off the bat, we were out of pocket $65,000, just because of the casino, mayor’s run and decreased membership for various reasons," she said.
“We thought we’d try to operate on a monthly basis, but we still have bills to pay and if you’re uncertain one month to the next, it becomes a real nightmare.”
The Aces formed in 2010 as Airdrie's first track and field club for youth. Depending on the year, between 30 to 60 members registered to compete with the Aces, Matsuba-Szucs said.
Despite its relatively small size, the club often punched above its weight, with many of its athletes winning competitions at the provincial, national and even international levels. Some of the club’s most successful alumni include former University of Guelph recruit Scott Chalupiak, who competed at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Youth Championships in 2015; University of Calgary sprinter Princess Roberts, who competed at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018; and University of Lethbridge throws athlete Andreas Troschke, who has medalled at U SPORTS nationals and the Canada West championships.
Matsuba-Szucs said some of the club’s members were disappointed when they learned the Aces had dissolved, though she added the club’s most competitive athletes – like throws athlete Jinaye Shomachuk – have been able to join track clubs in Calgary.
“Your higher level athletes who are provincial, national and potentially world material, those athletes are going to do whatever they have to, so they’re fine with it,” she said.
She said other local athletes might still train and compete in track and field competitions as "unattached" athletes.
While the Aces’ days as a competitive club may be over, Matsuba-Szucs said the board still intends to be involved with sport development in a different capacity. The board’s intention is to partner with the Calgary Track Council to form a foundation, she said, which would sponsor high-performance individual-sport athletes from Airdrie and area. Matsuba-Szucs added the final form of that sponsorship is still in the works.
With a storage shed full of track and field equipment at Ed Eggerer Athletic Park, she said another way the Aces can stay involved with the sport is to facilitate future track meets in Airdrie and lend equipment to school track teams and other user groups.
“We’re also set up, down the road in the future, should someone come forward and want to run the club or run a different club,” she said. “We might be able to help them out somewhat.”